Two women walk past a blue recycling bin on Sutter Street. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF targets city’s biggest buildings to reduce trash going to landfill

San Francisco has abandoned a more than decade-old goal of sending zero waste to the landfill by 2020 but now aims to reduce the tonnage going there by half by 2030.

To help achieve that 50 percent reduction, Supervisor Ahsha Safai is targeting more than 500 of San Francisco’s largest waste generators with legislation requiring them to properly sort their refuse or hire janitorial sorters, or “zero waste facilitators,” to do it full-time. If they don’t comply, they would pay fines.

But those impacted opposed the proposal during the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday.

Dee Dee Workman, of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said that “we all want to meet zero waste goals as soon as possible” but that the proposal shouldn’t apply the “same requirements for refuse separation to many completely different industries that generate different types of waste.”

SEE RELATED: Safai wants building owners to hire janitors to boost recycling

“The chamber can’t support this legislation unless it’s amended to reflect those differences,” Workman said.

Others said the proposal shouldn’t only target building owners, but also tenants who are the ones producing the trash.

Charley Goss, of the San Francisco Apartment Association, called on Safai to allow for landlords to pass on the cost of fines or trash sorters to the tenants. Goss said zero waste won’t occur unless “the people who are throwing away the waste have skin in the game.”

One concession Safai made Monday was to have the proposal go into effect July 1, 2019, not January 2019. Another concession was to give a building owner 60 days to hire janitor trash sorters, not 45 days as initially proposed, if they are found not recycling properly. The proposal impacts more than 500 buildings in San Francisco that produce 30 cubic yards of waste a week including hotels, large affordable housing buildings, office buildings with multiple tenants and hospitals.

The proposal was recently amended to include city departments as well, requiring it to have a hearing before the board’s Budget and Finance Committee. Safai told the San Francisco Examiner he doesn’t yet know when that hearing will be scheduled.

The proposal is supported by Debbie Raphael, the Director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. “This is a very solid piece of policy,” she said, but agreed more time would help those affected understand the impacts.

Safai said he is open to further discussions, but he emphasized he proposed the legislation after learning last year that The City will not reach its zero waste goal.

“We wanted to be more aggressive. We wanted to be environmentally conscious,” Safai said, noting that 60 percent of what is going to landfill can be either recycled or composted.

The proposal also has the backing of the janitors union, SEIU Local 87.

The City began mandating refuse customers properly sort their garbage in 2009, after setting the zero waste goal in 2003.

In 2000, San Francisco sent 872,731 tons of waste to the landfill. That reached a low of 428,048 tons in 2012 but has increased each year since then, reaching 580,992 tons in 2016.

Now The City has altered its goal, in a change recently announced by Mayor London Breed, to reduce today’s approximately 600,000 tons going to landfill by half to 300,000 tons by the end of 2030.

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